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2 Blind Spots Leaders Often Have Regarding Performance Discussions

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is being chased by predators through the woods? He quickly arrives at a cliff screeching to a halt and nearly falling off into a river far below. He now has a choice, stay to face the predators, which will likely kill him, or take a chance and jump into the river below risking possible severe injury or even death. He reacts and jumps.

In my opinion, this describes the decision many major organizations made when they made major changes to their performance management processes. They were being chased by the poor results of the typical appraisal. These include significant wasted time, complaints by employees (especially millennials) about the quality and frequency of feedback, and the lack of quality skill developmental discussions.

Many of the employees (especially millennials) who are unsatisfied with the typical appraisal process claim the feedback is poor and doesn’t help focus on developmental needs. As high as 65% say it is not relevant to their job  (Meinert, 2015). Only 8% believed their performance management systems made a significant positive contribution in employee performance (David Rock, 2013).  These Performance management “predators” are real.  Even so, reacting and jumping into a “river” you don’t really understand, is not necessarily the best option.  When you have blind spots, you only see the jumping option.

Accenture, GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Deloitte and several others reacted and jumped. Some went into the “river of software” where the hope was to spend less time and remove much of the paperwork angst. Some jumped into the “river of more frequent check-ins” to avoid the annual conversations which managers dread, which waste time, and that upset employees.

Although Accenture, GE, Microsoft, Adobe and Deloitte have “jumped” why are their employees/executives still unsatisfied? There are two reasons in the form of two blind spots.  The first is the lack of appreciation for a system. The is the “appreciation for a system blind spot”. The second is the idea that a manager is the key person who must provide feedback. This the “omniscient manager” blind spot.

Blind Spot #1: Appreciation for a system

Organizations are social systems with interdependent parts. One of the main reasons the typical appraisal process fails to gain support and creates frustration is because it is inconsistent with systems thinking. Systems thinking is a sophisticated way of thinking about performance.  Results are more dependent on the design and functioning of the system than on the actions and decisions of the individual performer.  Yet, most organizations (even those who jumped into one of the rivers) still insist managers provide consistent and frequent feedback to individuals.

In a social system, the focus needs to be on improving the quality of the interactions between the people and avoid evaluating and/or criticizing the individuals.  Any attempt to evaluate and/or measure the performance of the individuals ignores the influence of the system on those individuals and ignores the opportunity to improve the interactions.

The individuals work in the system.  Leaders are responsible for designing and/or working on the system.  If leaders design the system and the system influences individual performance, evaluating individuals is unsophisticated at best and malpractice at worst.  It’s a blind spot.

Blind Spot #2: The Omniscient Manager

Why do organizations continue to insist that managers deliver the frequent feedback? This idea is a holdover from the hierarchical view of organizations. Instead, why not design a performance management process that provides opportunities for everyone to learn from everyone? Why not allow everyone to innovate their service and performance to improve the quality and speed of the system interactions? Why not make it about “internal” customers?

A manager cannot possibly know enough to help employees with all their interactions. The employees’ “internal” customers will know much more about the performance and will know more useful information. The typical performance management approach is based on the false belief that managers must be omniscient and omnipotent simply because they have the big title and the position.  This is the blind spot.

A redesign that offers the option to speak to multiple employees, especially those who are the internal customers, would provide significant opportunity for those who desire frequent quality feedback. This redesign will focus on the quality of the interactions between internal supplier and internal customer.  Some leaders believe “crowd sourcing” software will perform this trick. Perhaps.  In my experience, the crowd sourcing software tends to be designed with blind spot #1. In other words, that type of software still evaluates the employee instead of evaluating and improving the interactions between the employees.

If an organization is ready to replace their appraisal process because the leaders find themselves at the edge of the cliff, it is important to recognize the two blind spots and redesign the process to address the two root causes of dysfunction. If not, you’re just jumping off that cliff because the predators have caught you. That’s not strategic leadership. It’s reactionary and can be deadly for performance and for employee engagement.

Check out the interview on C-Suite Best Seller TV to learn more about how to stop leadership malpractice and replace the typical performance review: https://www.c-suitetv.com/video/best-seller-tv-wally-hauck-stop-the-leadership-malpractice/

Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.


David Rock, J. D. (2013). One Simple Idea That Can Transform Performance Management. Retrieved from http://blueroom.neuroleadership.com: http://blueroom.neuroleadership.com/assets/documents/readings/HRPS_PS-36-2_ResearchCorner.pdf

Meinert, D. (2015, April 1). Is It Time to Put the Performance Review on a PIP? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0415-qualitative-performance-reviews.aspx

Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP
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